Since its inception in 1987, the racial attacks group has twice been reconvened to consider progress and chart new developments. On each occasion, time has been left to allow earlier recommendations to take effect. The group is currently examining the needs of local multi-agency racial attacks panels.
I thank the Minister for reviving the racial attacks group. Why was it not involved in the first place, given the shocking state of affairs and the escalation of racial incidents? There were 791 incidents in Scotland last year, and the figure for England and Wales in 1992–1993 was 7,951, which rose to nearly 10,000 in 1993–94. Does he agree that the racial attacks group committee is not dealing with the problem and that we need a standing committee that reports back to Parliament?
No, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The racial attacks group was not mothballed; it came together, made recommendations for the Government to implement and waited to see how those recommendations developed. We have reconvened it and given it a specific brief to deal with certain problems. I see no merit in its sitting continuously as a standing committee unless it has a proper job of work to do. As the hon. Gentleman quoted figures showing that racial incidents have increased, I am surprised that he did not quote the Strathclyde police area, where the number of racial incidents has fallen. In 1991, there were 254 racial incidents; in 1994, the figure was down to 225. It is still too high, but at least the number is going down.
There is some evidence that persistent racial harassment can lead to more serious racial attacks. Does my hon. Friend consider that more can be done to help ethnic minorities overcome their reluctance to report persistent harassment?
Yes, there can be. We took action in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal with the specific problem of harassment. I hope that that will have encouraged people to come forward. Also, the police are dealing with such issues sensitively and a large number of police forces now have special groups that are capable and qualified to deal with racial incidents. That will encourage greater reporting and give racial minorities confidence to report crime. The courts now have adequate powers to deal with such incidents.